A New Zealand-based veterinary technology company has launched a digital human assistant to help pet owners get advice at any time of day.
'Sophie' went live at selected practices across Aotearoa and Australia today in what the company says is a world first, allowing pet owners to access credible health and nutrition advice directly from clinics' websites
Sophie is an AI-powered human that communicates with non-verbal cues, such as tone of voice and facial expressions, so that those who talk with her get a dynamic, emotionally responsive answer.
CEO of Virtual Vet Nurse Steve Merchant said Sophie will allow busy practices to educate and engage clients while freeing up vets to spend more time treating animals.
"People turned to pets for companionship during the pandemic and rely on vets for credible answers about animal wellbeing and nutrition, yet clinics are facing the added pressures of COVID-19 protocols and staffing shortages," he said.
Danny Tomsett, CEOof UneeQ - which developed Sophie's avatar, said this was the beginning of what can be expected from the next generation of the internet.
"Pet owners often need a little extra empathy when seeking answers around their pet's health and wellbeing," he said.
"When they can’t get that directly from their vet, Sophie is now available to chat - providing curated, expert advice, online and in real time."
Sophie's AI brain was developed by Ambit and uses a self-learning conversational model to talk with customers, and can manage administrative processes such as booking appointments, confirming a pet's vaccination status and asking pre-consultation questions.
As well as Sophie, Virtual Net Nurse's customers can access less-human assistants, like cartoons Bruce, the digital dog vet nurse and Victor, the virtual nurse.
Lori Mahoney, the marketing manager at New Plymouth Veterinary group said it had been using Bruce since 2021.
"We have been impressed with how our clients have responded to him," she said.
"Being available 24/7, he can handle a whole range of tasks, help clients navigate our website and is trained to pass on the client details to our team when he is unsure."
Dr Megan Alderson from The Strand Vet in Parnell said sustainable veterinary service relied on using customer-centric tech.
"Embracing virtual/digital tech team members enables us to take care of our most precious resource, our veterinary professional teams and their time to care, allowing us to do what we turn daily to do - care of the heartbeats at our feet."
Virtual Net Nurse will next be launched in the US and other international markets, the company said.